At Lambeau Field, Case & Vance Plot a Path for Emerging Startup Hubs

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organizations in the industry, as Case advocates, it’s worth noting that the trucking and logistics giant Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR) is also based in Green Bay.

One new resource for startups in northeastern Wisconsin that Case visited and described to the audience is The Grind, a coworking space in Oshkosh, WI. It joins a handful of existing entrepreneurship-focused facilities in the area. Still, members of the startup scene there admit that it has a long way to go before it begins drawing comparisons to other pockets of innovation in the Midwest.

Considering that Wisconsin has finished dead last in each of the previous three years in a closely watched national ranking of startup activity by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, it of course does not help when promising early-stage companies move out of the Badger State. Two buzzed-about startups initially headquartered in northeastern Wisconsin, Aver Informatics and WeMontage, in recent years left the state for Columbus, OH, and Atlanta, respectively.

Other parts of the state, most notably the Madison, WI, area, have had more success in fostering high-growth startups. One measure of that is investment activity. Madison came in 14th place in a 2016 international ranking of cities by venture capital investment per capita, based on data compiled by researchers at the Martin Prosperity Institute.

One city with similarities to Madison is Columbus, which is also home to a large public research university and the state capital. That’s where Vance is based. He moved back to his home state of Ohio after living in Silicon Valley and working for an investment firm there.

Asked by Xconomy how places in the U.S. where relatively few people are launching high-growth startups—like his hometown of Middletown, OH—might work to change that, Vance said the playing field is never going to be completely even.

“Because of how important and valuable network density is, you’re going to have certain places that are more vibrant, that are able to create more jobs and create more value in certain bigger and medium-size cities,” he said. “[But] we know pretty confidently that the benefits of a high-growth entrepreneurial economy in a place like Columbus isn’t just good for Columbus—it’s good for the broader central Ohio region. When you see that connective tissue developing across the ecosystem, it comes in a number of different varieties.”

Vance said one indicator that a metropolitan area’s innovation community has a critical mass—of startups, venture capital dollars, and other key measures—is when people believe that they can move there to take a job, and easily make a “Plan B” if things don’t end up going as planned. From the perspective of entrepreneurs, network density is “expressed most powerfully” when a move to a new city represents a bet by the employee not just on one organization, but on the community to which it belongs, he said.

“When they look to the future and they look at their job prospects and say, ‘I’d really like to go and work at that company,’ a very powerful motivator is knowing that if that company fails, there will be another company in the ecosystem [that will be hiring],” Vance said. “They don’t have to move their family 1,000 miles away if they take that job and something doesn’t work out.”

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